WESTMINSTER — With his weekend pass running out and a long drive ahead of him, Gerald M. Rosier was giving his mother, Nancy Spaugh, a final hug and was rushing from Sunday's Victory Support Rally here.
But then Eric Poulsen began to sing from the podium, "I'm Proud to Be an American,"and he knew he had to stay for a few more minutes.
"That's my favorite song," said Rosier, whom everyone calls Jerry. "We heard it all the time during the war. It got me through."
The 21-year-old U.S. Army specialist wrapped his arms tightly around his mother as both of them listened and shed tears of joy for his safe return from seven months in Saudi Arabia.
City residents Ronald and Nancy Spaugh were at Fort Bragg, N.C., April 1 when their son arrived from the gulf. They mentioned the rally and Jerry said he decided to make a quick trip from the base to his home here.
During the rally, he and his parents joined other veterans and families to form a human chain around the City Playground, singing "God Bless America" in the warm afternoon sun.
"You are the best we have," said Mayor W. Benjamin Brown to the veterans who ringed the field. "We are proud to stand with you."
The sunny climate was "quite a change" from a rally in February when the wind chill kept many supporters away, saidthe mayor.
The Rev. Richard Michaels offered prayers, especially for Specialist Charles L. Bowman Jr., a Manchester resident killed inan explosion in southern Iraq last week. Bowman's parents also attended.
Bowman's mother, Sandra, a member of the Westminster Support Group for families with relatives serving in the gulf, told Spaugh she wanted to be with other service mothers Sunday.
"We have all become the closest friends over the past few months," said Spaugh. "We are going to stay together and meet regularly as long as we need to."
Bobbie Utz spent about a month organizing the rally, which about 500 people attended.
The Junior Women's Club of Westminster gave out more than 200 small American flags and asked for autographed support messages to send to the gulf. The Fashion Trends 4-H Club made 400yellow ribbons, and 150 orange ones especially for the service families.
The crowds cheered loudly as Guy Miller, VFW member and Vietnam veteran, addressed them.
"About 99 percent of that applause should go to the veterans in the audience. If they ever wonder what theyfought for, they should see what I'm seeing today," said Miller as he looked out on a field of flags, yellow ribbons and banners.
"Keep it up. Our troops still need you. They are still in harm's way," hesaid.
Miller recognized all veterans, as VFW members dressed in uniforms from previous wars stepped forward. He said events of the past few months should renew everyone's pride in the United States.
"Remember all the veterans," he said. "They have paid the price for the freedom you have today."
Nellie Pittinger of the American LegionAuxiliary Post 31 here passed out traditional red paper poppies. Thegroup has been sending packages, cards and letters to the gulf sincethe crisis began.
"As far as we are concerned, the service men and women over there are our families," she said.
Several families were videotaping the rally. Richard Ely of Eldersburg said he had a collection of 17 tapes he was saving for his son John, who just returned to North Carolina after serving with the Air Force in the gulf.
"We are grateful for all the support," said Ely. "Our son got packages from Sykesville Middle School and Freedom Elementary sent him a picture of snow covered with yellow ribbons."
The mayor urged everyone to show the veterans a lifetime of love and respect.